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Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Gimme Danger’ Reviewed

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Iggy

 

‘Music is life and life is not a business’, says Iggy Pop during an award ceremony toward the end of Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Gimme Danger’. This sums up very accurately his life and the Stooges’ career, the greatest rock and roll band that has ever existed, the band that has always kept an uncompromising and unapologetic attitude.

I read all kinds of horror stories about Iggy and the Stooges, stories that involved drugs and auto destruction, stories of blood coming out of syringes at the time they were shooting massive amount of heroin, and spread all over the walls of their communal house, making a Pollock painting. I don’t know if all these stories are true, there is always a lot of mythology around a legendary band, but there is little time spent on the subject of auto-destruction in Jarmusch’s movie.

‘Gimme Danger’ is basically narrated by Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Iggy sits with his Florida tan, pale blue eyes and blond straw hair, and he speaks and speaks, while we watch archive high-energy-performance footage, Stooges-non related segments of all sorts (certainly due to the lack of videos made at the time), rough animation (which is becoming an annoying trend these days), in order to connect the dots between the early debut, James Osterberg’s life at his parents’ trailer house, and the emergence of the Stooges with their unique and visceral energy.

The movie nevertheless opens with images of destruction and Iggy stage diving while the crowd is throwing stuff at the band, they were criticized for being decadent and bizarre, he explains, and they were getting dirtier, skinner, it was 1973 and the Stooges’ first incarnation was over. The movie goes into all the details of the birth of the band, Iggy getting inspiration from children’s TV shows and especially Chicago blues clubs, as he wanted to reinvent music and do ‘what blacks had done for this generation’. If you are a music history junky, this movie will certainly captivate your interest till the end, it’s funny to see old pics of Iggy drumming for his High School band the Iguanas, from which he will derive his name later, or to witness the time when the Asheton Brothers, Ron and Scott and Dave Alexander became the Stooges when they added Jim Osterberg (Iggy) on vocals to their band, The Dirty Shames. However, sometimes all this narration just sounds like a Wikipedia entry.

The rest is a succession of steps in the Stooges’ career, the MC5 influence – ‘we should get some of that in our music’ – the communal house – ‘We were communists, we shared everything but we were not political at all’, tells us humble Iggy who never presents himself as the frontman of the band. Then comes the signing to Elektra in 1969 and their self-titled debut album, which despite a production by ex-VU John Cale ,was a commercial failure. After the recording of ‘Fun House’ in LA in 1970, heroin took over, Elektra dropped them and the Stooges broke up in 1971.

After a methadone detox, Iggy met Bowie and his salvation in New York City, then went to London with James Williamson, where they were soon followed by two more Stooges because Iggy wanted to’ keep his Detroit identity’. And this eventually led to the recording of the Stooges’ most influential album, ‘Raw Power’…. but I bet you already knew all this if you were a fan.

Still, Jarmusch manages to make Iggy sound like an interesting storyteller, happy to remember about the good old times, probably brushing away the darkest parts, and only becoming angry when talking about Californian manufactured love hits, ‘created during meetings, a culture treason!’ Far from being a culture treason, Iggy is a culture treasure, he was the first one to get the idea of wearing a dog collar around his neck (and still don’t know what this means, he adds with a spark in his eyes), he also got the idea of not wearing a shirt on stage after watching a few pharaohs movies, and he invented stage diving for god’s sake!

‘Gimme Danger’ doesn’t look like any current biopic, for the good reason that many of the actors are still alive, contrary to Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse, Iggy is a survivor and he is very lively, as sharp as ever, remembering every detail. He is still this street walking cheetah, with this incredible flexible body, not looking his age (69) despite a wrinkled face and his past excesses. However, ‘Gimme Danger’, with his provocative title, probably lacks danger, it is a safe narration that avoids the bleak moments to finally culminate in a happy ending with the reforming of the Stooges in 2003 at Coachella.

Don’t get me wrong, I would listen to smiling sparkling-eyes Iggy for hours, but the movie partly fails at demonstrating why the Stooges were the most decadent and dangerous band ever. I went to a few Iggy shows, it was raw and dangerous, and there was blood every time, The Iggy, who is sitting in a laundry room and telling us these stories, has little to do with the bleeding-nose furious Iggy I saw on stage, the out-of-control, repeatedly stage-diving Iggy, who wanted to dedicate a song to ‘his dick’,… and I didn’t even see him in the 70’s! Did I want depravity and debauchery? I was not sure what to expect but the movie is too cozy and friendly and not raw enough, this is a guy who OD-ed on stage while heroin is barely talked about in the movie.

‘I don’t want to belong to glam people, alternative people, to any of it, I don’t want to be a punk, I just want to be me’, says Iggy toward the end of the movie, as if he was speaking for his image, and that of his band. It’s a powerful declaration and the Stooges’ fierce affirmation of independence is still a mystery to me, why were they so fearless? Gimme more of this raw power.

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